The Montclair Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday to submit a bond proposal question for voter approval on the Nov. 8 ballot — $187,739,769 in projects at every Montclair school, the Montclair Community Pre-K, Woodman Field and the administrative building.

The vote was the culmination of nearly a year of work that ended in a scramble as required information from the state Department of Education arrived to the district only three days before the deadline to file with the county for the November election. 

After delays in reimbursement information from the state, district leaders were unsure if they would be able to meet the county deadline to file for the November election. If the information from the state had not been provided in time to meet the deadline, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said the district would have had to call for a special election.

But in the nick of time, on Tuesday morning, the district received preliminary eligible cost letters from the state and assembled a resolution for approval at the board’s Wednesday meeting. The deadline to submit a public question for the November ballot is Sept. 9 by 4 p.m., a representative of the Essex County Clerk’s Office told Montclair Local.

The state granted the Montclair district $58.5 million in aid.

The Montclair Board of Education passed a resolution to place a bond proposal question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The Montclair Board of Education passed a resolution to place a bond proposal question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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“It was a tremendous amount of work for, I'd say, the better part of the year, more like nine months, that we've been working on this and just really thrilled that it came in on time,” Eric Scherzer, chair of the finance and facilities committee, said at the Wednesday meeting. 

Scherzer thanked those who called the Department of Education on the district’s behalf, asking for the reimbursement information to be provided. 

Ponds thanked elected officials and said he spoke Wednesday with Angelica Allen-McMillan, the Department of Education commissioner, to thank her for the department’s assistance. 

“It’s a big night, and I'm so very proud of everyone coming together to work through this,” Ponds said Wednesday. 

The deadline to submit a public question for the November ballot is Sept. 9 by 4 p.m., a representative of the Essex County Clerk’s Office told Montclair Local.  

Of the $187,739,769 total project cost, the state deemed $172,081,968 as preliminary eligible costs, the project costs that they will assist in paying. The state funding comes in the form of debt service aid, issued annually, Andrea L. Kahn, the district’s bond attorney, said at the Wednesday board meeting. 

The debt service aid will be 31.17% over the life of the bond issue, Kahn said. Of the $172,081,968, the expected state share will be $58,507,869.12, and the state will also cover 31.17% of the bond interest. 

The state was expected to cover between 28% and 38% of the cost of the bond.

The district intends to issue three tranches of bonds, issued within five years, in 2023, 2025 and 2027, Ponds told Montclair Local on Thursday. But the board reserves the right to change the timeline if needed. And each bond would be paid over a 20-year period, meaning the repayments will be complete in 2047.

A March presentation by Parette Somjen Architects about the referendum projects estimated construction to conclude in December 2028.

Based on the average assessment of a home in Montclair of $628,952, the cost would be an estimated $323 more per year for the first tranche, Kahn said. For the second tranche, the impact on the average homeowner would be an additional $283 and for the final tranche, the impact would be additional $272. 

The average tax impact over the course of the 24-year period of the three bond issues is expected to be $732, Ponds told Montclair Local.

But estimated totals are imprecise, Kahn said at the Wednesday meeting. The first tranche is based on $70 million, the second based on $60 million and the third based on the remaining figure of $57,731,000, she said. And if the proposal passes, Parette Somjen Architects will then evaluate how best to move forward with planning and the scheduling of the work.

“Once the project is approved, the architects are going to fine tune how they're going to stage and phase this in,” Kahn said. “They’re going to figure out how much we need. We may not need as much in the first tranche.”

Parette Somjen won’t begin work on construction plans until after the proposal is approved for two reasons, Kahn said — the district does not yet have the funds to pay them and if the proposal were to fail, the plans would go to waste. The district also plans to hire a construction manager to facilitate all the work. 

“After the issue is passed, they'll be preparing final construction plans, and they'll also be proposing an implementation schedule so that they'll have a much better assessment as to how fast you're going to need the money because of how fast you can spend the money,” Kahn said.

Once the proposal is approved, the board will make final decisions about the timing of the bonds along with their maturity schedules, Kahn said. The board may also reallocate funds between projects, as long as the total project cost does not exceed the total authorization in the proposal. 

One advantage of doing the bond issue in three tranches is that the district won’t have to begin paying debt service on the total amount all at once, Kahn said. 

“Obviously, you're going to be spending that money over a period of time and in phases, so that reduces the total amount of interest,” Kahn said.

The Montclair Board of Education passed a resolution at its Wednesday meeting to submit a $187,739,769 bond proposal question for voter approval on the Nov. 8 ballot. Andrea Kahn, the district’s bond attorney, explained the proposal and the board’s resolution at the meeting. (MONTCLAIR BOARD OF EDUCATION)
The Montclair Board of Education passed a resolution at its Wednesday meeting to submit a $187,739,769 bond proposal question for voter approval on the Nov. 8 ballot. Andrea Kahn, the district’s bond attorney, explained the proposal and the board’s resolution at the meeting.
(MONTCLAIR BOARD OF EDUCATION)
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In the eligible cost letters, the state included what they determined to be excess costs — $10,378,053. Eligibility is determined by evaluating the purpose of the project, any projects related to health and safety, code requirements and educational adequacy are eligible for state aid, Kahn said, 

Different formulas are used to calculate how much of each eligible project's cost the state will cover, Kahn said. But the formulas are not exactly fitted to today’s costs, she said. 

The formula for new construction evaluates the amount of space necessary in certain grade levels to provide a thorough and efficient education for a student and then how much space is needed for the student population. If a district needs additional space, the new construction is deemed eligible for state aid. But the costs are only eligible at $143 per square foot, “regardless of the fact that it costs quite a bit more to build school construction,” Kahn said. 

But with the power to set the timing and maturity of the bonds, the board can make informed decisions based on the market, how fast building and construction can occur and other factors, Kahn said. 

With the resolution slated for a vote Wednesday, board members noted that their work is still far from done.  

“We're at a pivotal point, we're not at any kind of finish line,” Priscilla Church, board vice president, said at the Wednesday meeting. "In fact, as we turn the corner tonight, after this resolution has passed, we are going to embark on something that's really monumental and almost unprecedented in this town.”

Community groups have already begun conversations with board members in an effort to spread information about the referendum. 

The Special Education Parent Advisory Council, the League of Women Voters for the Montclair Area and the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation have all reached out to schedule meetings with the board, Scherzer said Wednesday. The Montclair PTA Council has also been working closely with the board to advocate for the passage of the referendum, he said.

“My grandchildren shouldn't be going to the schools in the same condition that my kids went to,” Scherzer said. “That's 40 years difference in time, and we've got to make sure that that's changed and corrected.” 

In a message sent Thursday to Montclair Local, Councilman Peter Yacobellis said Montclair “is at an inflection point.”

“My partner and I don't have any children and likely never will,” Yacobellis said. “But we care about the quality of education for all Montclair kids, and we know that the fate of this town and selfishly, the value of our home, are intrinsically linked to the quality of Montclair schools. It is time to upgrade these buildings and give Montclair kids modern, safe, and healthy learning environments.”